Izakaya Toyo – Osaka, Japan - Gastro Obscura
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Gastro Obscura

Izakaya Toyo

Blowtorches, tuna, and a jolly, chain-smoking proprietor mark this beloved street-food stand. 

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Osaka is one of the places to be for great street food in Japan. Its lively streets are full of informal and affordable stand-up bars, known as izakaya or tachinomiya, where patrons order a bite to eat to accompany their beer or sake.

In the quarter-century since it opened, Izakaya Toyo has become one of the most beloved stand-up snack bars in the city. Here, you’ll find Toyo-san, as he’s generally known, standing in the kitchen, blowtorch in hand, normally with a cigarette clamped between his lips.

It’s a simple place—some might say ramshackle—with a kitchen built on the back of a truck bed, stand-up tables made from beer crates, and an alfresco atmosphere that’s never short on energy. And when it opens, there’s always a line of people waiting to be fed, which rarely lets up throughout the day.

Izakaya Toyo specializes in seafood, especially sushi. And while the humble Toyo-san doesn’t claim to be a great sushi master, his fresh and affordable dishes are full of flavor and, just as importantly, plenty of love.

Most days you can order bright reddish-orange ikura (salmon roe), uni (sea urchin), and maguro sashimi (fresh, raw tuna sliced into thin pieces). But the real show-stopper is the aburi maguro, the fresh, flame-seared tuna cooked in classic Toyo-san fashion.

With a blowtorch in one hand, a cigarette in his mouth, and a tub of ice at his side, Toyo-san unleashes a wave of fire at his chunks of tuna as they sit on the grill. He broils them in a carefree manner and somehow, miraculously, avoids setting fire to himself or anybody else. His hands must be made of fire-retardant leather, or maybe the flames have simply learned to respect this master of the Osaka izakaya.

Know Before You Go

Expect a line when you arrive, but don’t get too disheartened as it normally moves quite quickly.